It’s Christmas time in Europe which means the Christmas Markets are open for business and plentiful! And let me tell you, the Europeans LOVE their Christmas markets! Please enjoy this post of pictures (mostly Essen & Vienna).
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the story of Cinderella. However, here’s a quick recap…scullery maid who is treated like garbage by her stepmother meets, falls in love with, and immediately marries Prince Charming. The 1950s Disney movie ends with Cinderella and Charming riding away in a horse-drawn carriage with the storybook closing and the last page reads “…and they lived happily ever after.” For the sake of this post, I am going to ignore the fact that Cinderella ran around town in a pair of high-heeled glass slippers and had very little to actually pack then move into the castle.
Well, my story is nothing like that of Cinderella’s. The only parallel is that I too met, fell in love with, and married my own version of Prince Charming. He is smart, handsome, funny, and above all else an amazing father and provider. So, when this amazing man got the opportunity to work in Germany, we packed up our things and moved! Unfortunately, unlike Cinderella…we came with a ton of
cr@p, er, stuff and I definitely didn’t run around in glass slippers.
All of our belongings were packed up on October 3, 2018. Lots of movers arrived at our condo in Chicago and packed everything…literally everything (yep, including the almost empty bottles of shampoo and wet outdoor rug). I was specifically instructed to create two piles for packing. One, the smaller one, would be everything we needed for daily life, also known as “Air Shipment.” The second, the larger one, is everything else, also known as “Sea Shipment.” The air shipment was to take one to two weeks to make it to Germany while the sea shipment was to take six to eight weeks. For us, those instructions meant pack everything the baby needed in the air shipment and everything else in the sea shipment. Knowing we would be moving into a fully furnished apartment and that none of our appliances would work meant that we also needed a third packing option, also known as the “Moving to My Mom’s” shipment. (Sorry mom, it was a lot of stuff…and thank you).
Jump forward a few weeks…we moved out of the hotel and into our German apartment on the European 2nd floor, the American 3rd floor (aka 43 stairs). We also had our meeting with the city to get our resident cards. While we didn’t walk out of the immigration office with resident cards in hand, we did walk out with a paper stating that our resident cards were coming. Our official cards would be coming through Deutsche Post in a few weeks. Everything was going well, right? Wrong! Let me be clear, the rest of the world thinks Germany is very efficient. They are not. Even with the paper promising our resident cards, NO ONE could move the rest of the process along. Everything we needed was at a standstill because we didn’t have the official plastic card. Ugh!
Things that can happen after receiving the physical residency card:
- air shipment can be processed and arrive
- sea shipment can be processed and arrive
- the process of leasing or buying a car can begin
Yeah, you read that correctly. The air shipment, remember…one to two weeks until arrival from the packing date, couldn’t be processed or sent until we had the official plastic resident card. So, everything we needed for baby didn’t leave the US until early November. However, the sea shipment was already on its way. Let’s just say we made many trips to IKEA to purchase things like a play mat and high chair so I could safely set Carson down every once in awhile.
Fast forward, again, to November 26th, the week of Thanksgiving. We got word that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING had arrived in Germany. All items had been processed and would be delivered bright and early Monday morning (if you are counting, that was eight weeks without our things). It was also the week that we were heading to Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, see previous post. To say I was stressed doesn’t even begin to cover the wave of emotions I felt.
Monday morning arrived and so did the truck, all of our things, and about 5 German men to unpack everything with only one speaking a little English. 4 of the 5 moving men worked tirelessly to carry up and unpack our boxes. The other one requested a fresh pot of coffee for himself while he watched the others work. (I never did get the coffee mug back…) The men had a system in place for unpacking the boxes…carry the box upstairs, unpack the box onto any available surface, remove the box. Unfortunately for us, they brought up the empty furniture, like the dressers AFTER they had unpacked everything onto all available surfaces. Again with the efficiency thing, not sure why they wouldn’t just bring the furniture up first, then unpack the boxes into the empty furniture…but then again what do I know? I don’t own, run or work for a moving company. The absolute last thing the moving men unpacked was the air shipment…you know, the one with all the baby items that was supposed to have arrived within 1-2 weeks of us moving to Germany. Two days later, we headed to Paris only to return to the mess a week later.
After we returned from Paris it took about 2 weeks to get all of the items sorted and put away. Some items that were packed we no longer needed and we had to find storage for them. It took another couple of months for me to organize, rearrange, and toss items for our apartment to start feeling like a home.
We have lived in Germany for over a year now. All of our things were delivered and unpacked a year ago and I am still salty about the whole thing. Needless to say, I now know what NOT to do when we move back to the states or should we make another international move.
When the holidays roll around, Jeff and I love spending time with our family. Usually we are in LA for Thanksgiving and DC for Christmas. For the past two years, we felt that flying to the states for Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas would be too taxing, especially on Carson. She is a great little traveler but the 3 day jet lag is no fun. Luckily for us, we haven’t had to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year our LA family met us in Paris. This year our expat family gathered in the Eifel region of Germany.
2018: Paris, France
Paris is a 5 hour drive from where we are living in Germany. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, Jeff took a few days off from work and we headed to Paris to meet up with our LA family. In total we had 7 adults and 1 baby. We rented a beautiful 4 bedroom Air BnB near the place de la republique, complete with a full kitchen so we could prepare a somewhat proper Thanksgiving dinner. Days were spent exploring the city and nights were spent drinking too much wine and catching up.
At that point in time, we had been living in Germany for two months and while I wasn’t completely homesick, I was definitely missing American TV…or anything in English. On Thanksgiving day the crew headed out to gather ingredients for dinner while Carson and I enjoyed couch time and American Netflix (yes, there is a difference in what is offered on Netflix dependent on the country). I was also stressed out because all of our belongings had been delivered to Germany the day before we left on this adventure and our new home was a complete disaster, more on that in another post. Thankfully, I was able to relax and enjoy some quiet time. Turkeys were unavailable at such late notice as they aren’t a staple in France, but we were able to scrounge up a whole chicken, herbs and fresh veggies for our feast.
2019: Schleiden, Germany
This year for Thanksgiving, we celebrated with our expatriate crew: 31 adults, 1 teenager, 3 toddlers, & 2 dogs or 20 Americans, 5 Australians, 3 Germans, 3 Frenchmen, 2 Canadians, 1 Brit and 1 Egyptian. Two fearless leaders took charge and found an entire hotel for rent on Air BnB in the small town of Schleiden. Seriously, it was just our crew taking over this hotel that was complete with industrial kitchen, large dining room and bar area. Instead of taking off time from work and celebrating on Thursday (actual Thanksgiving), we all decided it was best to wait until the weekend. Days were spent exploring the outdoors on hikes and going to Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets). Nights were spent playing board games and watching American college football.
Not only is it pretty cool that our group gets along so well but that everyone did their part when it came to the Thanksgiving feast. Whether they made one of the 3 turkeys, prepared a side dish like green bean casserole, potatoes or stuffing, baked pies, decorated tables, or brought snacks for when we weren’t feasting…we all did our part.
I’m looking forward to see what’s in store for Thanksgiving 2020.
Before leaving Chicago, Jeff and I had quite the social circle. We loved spending time with our friends who, to be honest, became family. We knew that in moving to Germany our social group would change and possibly be nonexistent. I’ll just say that Lady Luck dealt us a pretty great expat hand.
Our expat community is large and includes members from Australia, the UK, Scotland, Spain, France, Germany and of course the US. We spend a great deal of time together but about once a week the ladies break away for Ladies Night (Montag oder Mittwoch fur Mädchens, Dienstag oder Donnerstag fur Damens, Freitag fur Frauen…you get the picture). Usually it’s a nice dinner with good wine, thoughtful conversation and belly laughs. Sometimes it takes us on an adventure or a weekend away (more on that in another blog post). Every time we are together I think to myself, these girls get me. We’ve all chosen or been thrown into the expat life and are surviving with grace.
I want to take a blog post to recognize these wonderful women, friends. Expat life comes with its challenges. These women are strong individuals and believe in celebrating each other rather than bringing each other down. They are trustworthy and honest, compassionate and non-judgmental, extremely supportive in good and bad times, humorous and are overall enjoyable to be around. We don’t need specific reasons to meet but occasionally it’s to celebrate a birthday or enjoy one last night together before an unfortunate departure.
As a stay at home mom, I live for these nights out. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter with 100% of my being but I do love my nights away where I get to be “me” again. What some fail to realize is that stay-at-home moms don’t get to leave work or have weekends off. In fact, sometimes our “boss” can be a real pain, especially when tired, hungry, or well, it’s a Tuesday. My boss comes with me everywhere! And, not sure how your vacations are but mine are always work trips where my boss flails her little body around in a 2″ x 2″ space on the airplane.
Our ladies nights usually take place in restaurants around Essen. Essen is the town where the majority of us live. Coincidentally, essen also means food or to eat in German. However, as mentioned earlier, sometimes our ladies nights turn adventurous. Duisburg is a little town about 20 min from where we live. It is the home of an unusual attraction called “Tiger and Turtle”. This walk-in roller coaster like attraction was opened in 2011 and built atop a former dump. A climb to the top, promises beautiful views of Duisburg and the Rhine River on clear days. And the answer to your obvious question is no. No, you cannot climb upside down on the loop…but wouldn’t it be cool if you could?
When a friend from the states, who has explicitly gotten their passport to come and visit, finally comes to visit…Road Trip! And what better way to break in the passport then to go to as many countries as possible in a short amount of time. Jeff’s good friend, Grant came to visit recently and hopefully we his European adventure didn’t disappoint. Our 5 day adventure took us through Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Below are quick descriptions of places we visited and some pictures from along the way.
- Cologne, Germany
- Kölner Dom/Cologne Cathedral-This amazingly beautiful cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. One of its treasures is the Shrine of the Three Kings which it is believed to hold relics of the three wise men. The Cologne Cathedral became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
- FRÜH am Dom-After admiring the cathedral we headed to a traditional German brewpub a few blocks away. It’s the kind of place where you find a seat wherever you can, share, tables with strangers, beers are refilled almost as soon as they are empty and your beer consumption is marked on your coaster. (The marks on this coaster indicate the beers of the group…not just me. We each had 3, 0.2L kölsch beers).
- Remagen, Germany
- Brücke von Remagen-In the closing weeks of WWII, this critical remaining bridge over the Rhine river was captured by the US Army. This bridge was on Grant’s list of things to see as his grandfather took part in missions that helped secure it. The bridge collapsed 10 days after it was captured in 1945 but the towers remain.
- Koblenz, Germany
- Deutsches Eck-The German Corner is in Koblenz and is where the Mosel river merges with the Rhine. At the eck is a statue of Wilhelm I, the unifying emperor of Germany. This statue was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1993.
- Augenroller (Eye Roller)-This is a strange monument that you might walk by if you didn’t know to look for it (or what it does). It’s the face of Johan Lutter, a 16th century robber. His eyes “roll” back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock and every half hour his tongue darts in and out for a few seconds. He was beheaded for his crimes so some say he is there as a reminder to stay on track others say that he is there to taunt the citizens of Koblenz.
- Verdun, France
- Verdun Memorial-An extremely well done Memorial/museum to commemorate the Battle of Verdun in WWI. Over 230,000 young men died out of 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded & missing) during the long battle, Feb. 21, 1916-Dec. 19, 1916.
- Duoaumont Ossuary-Just a few minutes down the road lies a memorial and 13,000 crosses which hold 130,000 unidentified remains from the battle. The ground around the Memorial is still sculpted by all of the bombs that were dropped and each year they find more remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield.
- Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
- Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial-The burial spot for General George S. Patton and 5,073 WWII American soldiers. While sad, the cemetery is incredibly beautiful. Included in the entrance of the cemetery are 2 maps that depict happenings during WWII. We arrived 10 min after closing so we came back the next morning before heading to our next location.
- Luxembourg City-After visiting the American Cemetery we explored Luxembourg City. It was a Sunday (which means a lot of things in Europe are closed) but it’s pretty small so we were able to see a lot of the greatest hits before checking into the hotel.
- Brussels, Belgium
- Brasserie Cantillon-small brewery that makes phenomenal sours. Seriously delicious! If you are in Brussels, make the stop!
- City exploring took up the rest of our day. We took Grant to all of our favorite places from our last trip. Check our “I Can Show You The World” blog post for more on Brussels.
- Rotterdam, The Netherlands
- Markthal-We drove from Brussels to Rotterdam and went straight to Markthal. It’s an apartment building, parking garage, and food hall with just about every food imaginable including our favorite, the fresh made stroop waffles. I didn’t know about stroop waffles until we moved to Europe and now they are one of my favorite foods…especially when made fresh! Imagine a circular thin waffle, cut in half then slathered with fresh caramel in the middle. Soooo delicious! (Jeff’s new favorite is the stroop waffle with Nutella in the middle. Yummy!)
- Cube Houses-These are quite interesting to look at. They are houses that have been tilted by 45 degrees. The houses are lifted and are supposed to represent trees. Together they are supposed to create a forest. One owner has turned his cube into a space that curious visitors can tour. Rotterdam is an extremely modern city full of art. It pretty much had to be after getting almost completely demolished in WWII.
- Vessel 11-This British Gastro Pub on a boat docked in the old city harbor was a recommendation from a good friend. I’m glad we trusted her. The atmosphere is cozy and unique, very nautical. We had a few drinks and the Bitterballen. If you’ve never experienced Bitterballen, you should. They are Dutch beef ragout balls. If beef stew could be in meatball form, this would be it!
- Fenix Food Factory-In an old warehouse lies the Fenix Food Factory. This collective of restaurant is extremely hip and modern. It reminds me of Union Market in DC, a lot of delicious restaurants in one location. We got beers at Kaapse Brouwers and a Japanese pork pancake. Both were excellent choices.
- Delft, The Netherlands
- The city of Delft-is located between Rotterdam and The Hague in South Holland. It is known for hand painted blue and white pottery and is said to be the birthplace of microbiology. There is a medieval Oude Kerk (old church) which is the burial site of the famous artist Johannesburg Vermeer. The main town square that sits between City Hall and the New Kerk (built between 1381-1496) has plenty of shops with fresh Gouda, ice cream, blue and white pottery, wooden shoes and souvenirs. The city center reminded me of Amsterdam with all of the canals that run through the city.
- Haarlem, The Netherlands
- Frans Hals Museum-Our last stop took us to Haarlem to visit the Frans Hals Museum. Grant has been a big fan of the way Hals painted regular, everyday people since he learned about the artist in college. Hals was a Dutch Golden Age painter alongside Vermeer and Rembrandt. The museums collection includes other Dutch artists from around the same time period as well as modern art from Dutch artists. This museum is a definite must see if you ever make your way to Haarlem as it is incredibly well done.